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“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. 17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit” (James 5: 16b-18)

In James 5: 13-16, the apostle James encourages the afflicted to pray. Whether the need be physical or spiritual, James asserts that there is power in prayer. This does not mean, however, that God will hear every prayer. In line with this truth, the apostle affirms that it is the sincere, earnest prayer of a righteous man that prevails with God: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (v 16b).

Interestingly, the apostle names Elijah (Elias in the New Testament) as an example of the power of prayer. The prophet was “a righteous man” whose prayers “availeth much”. Why did James specifically single the prophet out as an example of earnest prayer? To answer the question, we need to consider Elijah’s eventful ministry and the two petitions presented in verses 17 and 18.

Elijah (or Elias in the New Testament) was a 9th century prophet of Israel. His name means “Yahweh is my God” which accurately conveys his life mission of directing Jehovah’s apostate people back to Himself. Unlike Samuel and some prophets whose detailed genealogies were recorded, Elijah appears abruptly on the scene in I Kings 17 without any parental lineage. One possible reason for the omission could be to sharpen the focus on his divine errand of overthrowing the worship of Baal worship and idolatry in Israel.

In the first petition highlighted by James, Elijah “… prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not in the earth by the space of three years and six months” (v 17b). King Ahab’s marriage to the Tyrian princess Jezebel had led him to idolatry including the worship of Baal (I Ki 16: 31-33). Indignant over the idolatry and wickedness of the royal court and the people, Elijah, jealous for Jehovah’s honour, prayed that the Lord would send a drought upon the land. God heard the prophet’s fervent prayers and closed the windows of heaven for three-and-a-half years: “ … there had been no rain in the land” (I Ki 17: 7).

All throughout his eventful prophetic ministry, Elijah had obeyed God’s commands without question. He had prayed specifically and fervently. After God’s spectacular answer by fire, and the slaying of the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel, Elijah wrestled with God for the fulfilment of His promise to send rain: “and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees” (I Ki 18: 42b). Though the cloud did not immediately appear, the faithful prophet persisted in prayer. We note his expectancy as he sent his servant seven times to the mountain top to look out for God’s answer ( v 43). Again God answered mightily – “the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain” (v 45).

Despite Elijah’s eminence, it was noted by James that he was “subject to like passions as we are” (Jas 5: 17a). Elijah, like any ordinary man, was far from perfect; he had his secret faults and fears. Along with moments of great triumph were also periods of fear, doubt and depression. Queen Jezebel’s threat of death sent him scurrying into the wilderness; he was so dejected that he “requested for himself that he might die” (I Ki 19: 4). He was discouraged that he was the only worshipper of Jehovah in Israel (v 14). The Lord had to correct the erroneous sentiments of his despondent servant in verse 18: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”

“Do not think of Elias as some superhuman being, whose prevalent intercession with God you are forbidden to imitate. He was a fellow-man with you, and a sharer with you of all the infirmities of human nature” (Family Bible Notes).

Despite the prophet’s weaknesses, great results followed his prayers. Elijah’s example of fervent intercessory prayer should encourage all of us to pray likewise.


Matthew Henry elaborates: “When a righteous person, a true believer, justified in Christ, and by His grace walking before God in holy obedience, presents an effectual fervent prayer, wrought in his heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, raising holy affections and believing expectations and so leading earnestly to plead the promises of God at his mercy-seat, it avails much. The power of prayer is proved from the history of Elijah. In prayer we must not look to the merit of man, but to the grace of God. It is not enough to say a prayer, but we must pray in prayer. Thoughts must be fixed, desires must be firm and ardent, and graces exercised.”

Though a mighty prophet of God, Elijah was a man “subject to like passions as we are”. But he obeyed God and lived a righteous life. God heard his fervent prayers and answered in mighty ways for His own glory.

Humble, believing, earnest, and persevering prayer prevails with God. Like Elijah, our part is to live righteously, pray earnestly and trust the Lord to answer us according to His will. Amen.

– Pastor